NEW YORK -- Mike Woodson called for his exhausted star, and Carmelo Anthony rose from the bench the way an old man rises from his rocker. Shane Battier had just tied Game 4 a minute and a half into the last quarter, and Woodson was not about to let go of the season -- maybe even his job -- without rushing his best player back onto the floor.
Anthony slowly pulled himself up, turned left toward the scorer's table, and flipped a towel to the court in disgust. He'd played the entire third quarter. He'd already scored 29 points on 22 shots. He'd already carried the burdens of a battered team that had lost another starter, Baron Davis, to a gruesome knee injury that forced teammates and opponents to all but cover their eyes.
It wasn't Joe Theismann, but it was close enough.
Anthony had to wait a couple of minutes to check in, time his body desperately needed. He knew his New York Knicks had no chance of making it to Game 5 in Miami if he didn't do exactly what he said he couldn't do last week, after Amare Stoudemire filmed his own slash-and-gash horror film in AmericanAirlines Arena.
"They weren't going to allow me to go out there and score 40 or 50 points or anything like that," Anthony said after scoring 30 in Game 2. "They're a great team."
A great team that plays defense like the '85 Bears. And even with Stoudemire working on his personal redemption tour Sunday, rolling toward 20 points and 10 boards with his heavily wrapped left hand, Anthony knew he would have to play the game of his miserable postseason life, or something approximating it, to change a narrative that was chasing him like those Miami Heat defenders.
Melo entered Game 4 with a 16-36 record in the playoffs, the worst percentage (.308) in NBA history. He'd already been a seven-time loser in the first round. He'd already worn his 0-7 postseason record as a Knick like a scarlet letter.
"I try not to think about that when I'm out there," Anthony would say. "My goal is to try to go out there and win basketball games. When I'm out there on the court, I don't think about what's my record in the playoffs or anything like that."
Human nature suggests Anthony was telling a white lie. Every big-name athlete cited for big-game failures has to confront and conquer their postseason demons and doubts before the conversation consumes the next unlucky soul. Ask Alex Rodriguez then, and LeBron James now.
A-Rod won his liberating title, and LeBron appears to be on the verge of doing the same. Melo? The Knicks gave up half the Manhattan phone book to get him last season, and he still hadn't won a single first-round game.
And yet Anthony swore he blocked it all out in the fourth quarter. "My focus is that play, that possession, that game, that day," he said, "and that's the only thing that's in my mind."
Whatever. With the Knicks up three inside the final 90 seconds, none of that mattered. Anthony made a critical defensive mistake when he lost LeBron, waved at an oblivious J.R. Smith to pick him up, and watched as James turned a clear 3-point look into a tied game.
Melo had to clean up his own mess. He took the ball near the top of the key, stared down Battier, and cut loose his own 3-pointer with 54.5 seconds left to hit pay dirt and turn the Garden upside down. Miami called time, and Anthony reprimanded Smith on their way back to the bench.
Nobody on the home side cared in the end. Anthony missed a couple of free throws, but Dwyane Wade was guilty of a much bigger miss, a 3 for the win in the frantic closing seconds. The Knicks had finally, mercifully ended their record streak of 13 consecutive playoff losses over 11 years, and Melo had the most significant breakthrough of the day this side of Albert Pujols.
Anthony finished with 41 points on 15-of-29 shooting. He threw some nice passes to Stoudemire, of all people, and his assists total (four) didn't account for those Smith cost him on misses that should've been makes.
"He wasn't ready to go home," Woodson said of his star.
"He was cooking for us," Smith said, "and he's going to have to keep playing like that throughout the rest of this series."
NBA teams down 3-0 in best-of-sevens are 0-100 in their attempts to win the series, and no, the 2012 Knicks are not the 2004 Red Sox. Game 4 will almost certainly go down as a mere consolation prize for a Knicks team that was desperate for something, anything, to ease its pain.
The Heat embarrassed the Knicks in Game 1, and Stoudemire embarrassed them after Game 2. Davis and Iman Shumpert went down with major knee injuries, and Jeremy Lin couldn't make it back to the court for the first four games.
Lin hasn't been ruled out of Game 5, but in a postseason where NBA players are dropping left and right it's hard to see the wisdom of throwing the kid and his surgically repaired knee out there. Linsanity would be reduced to insanity. The Knicks would be better off dressing Clyde Frazier at the point.
"Though he's injured right now he's still a part of the team," Anthony said of Lin. "And I look forward to having him back next season."
Melo wasn't cutting off Lin at the pass, again, as much as he was accepting reality. The Knicks amount to a physical wreck, and a bone-tired Anthony has to drag them to Miami and back.
Win or lose in Game 5, Anthony at least temporarily suspended all the noise surrounding his losing postseason ways. The Knicks' travel itinerary was written on a grease board in the winners' locker room, and Tuesday's schedule included this tweak of a certain someone: "3:00 pm -- To South Beach."
Who would've guessed that Carmelo Anthony would be taking his talents there, too?